Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Dr. M. Jahi Chappell, PhD, political ecologist and Director of Agroecology and Agriculture Policy at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, who was one of the speakers at the 2015 Food Tank Summit in partnership with The George Washington University.
Foot Tank (FT): What will your message be at the Food Tank Summit?
M. Jahi Chappell (MJC): That it is absolutely essential we base our efforts for a sustainable, food-secure future in an approach premised on human rights, socioeconomic equality, and the radical humility to work with, not at, marginalized communities. There must be “no intensification without representation” at all levels from these communities.
FT: How are you contributing to building a better food system?
MJC: Combining my experiences in academia, NGOs, and once upon a time, industry, I am working to promote humility and service by the “expert class”, in order to grow the power of the grassroots, and provide them with the information and advocacy to serve the most affected—and therefore most effective—in our dysfunctional food system.
FT: What are the biggest obstacles or challenges you face in achieving your organization’s goals?
MJC: Two. (1) Our democracy (in the United States) is not set up to empower communities, making it even more difficult to fight the creeping corporate power that is skewing our possibilities and perspectives; and
(2) Current models are not well-suited to supporting true co-equal partnerships that allow communities on the “front line” of the food and agriculture system, analysts, and advocates to work together.
FT: Who is your food hero and why?
MJC: I never had the chance to meet her, but it would be Maria Regina Nabuco. Maria Regina was the first head of the Food Security Secretariat of Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Though few have heard of Belo, or Maria Regina, Belo served as an important initial catalyst and testing ground for Brazil’s globally acclaimed and innovative “Zero Hunger” programs. From all of my interviews and work in Belo, everyone seems to agree that as a manager, an expert, a leader, and a citizen, Maria Regina truly listened and worked as a partner with her staff, and with the Belo community. Her time leading the Secretariat (under founding Mayor Patrus Ananias) saw unprecedented levels of citizen engagement, expansion, and engagement with her staff—she seems to have exemplified the radical humility necessary for experts to work with, rather than at, communities facing food insecurity. She set an example for food sovereignty before food sovereignty was cool.
FT: In 140 characters or fewer, what is the most important thing we can all do to help change the food system.
MJC: We all have multiple backgrounds & identities; serve your community, but also be & build bridges between different local communities!